American Football: 'Mr America' Brady ready to join immortals
The most garlanded quarterback of his generation, the faultlessly urbane poster boy for the glossies, the consort to the wealthiest supermodel on Earth: what is there not to love about Tom Brady? Or, for those seeking a crease or two in this perfect packaging, what is there not to hate?
Brady (below), if you are not already familiar with the man chasing a record-equalling fourth Super Bowl ring on Sunday night, is Mr America.
He is the suave, lantern-jawed jock; the immaculately groomed heart-throb found in any American high-school drama you care to mention. He wins the game, he gets the girl. But Brady has elevated this archetype to an unprecedented level, wrapping his giant paws around the Vince Lombardi Trophy on three occasions, while marrying Gisele Bundchen, the Brazilian cover girl whose earnings comfortably outstrip his own.
To identify Brady's equivalent among sport's band of alpha males on this side of the Atlantic is to alight, inescapably, upon David Beckham. The two of them have sought each other's counsel many times -- not surprising, since they acquire endorsements just as effortlessly as they exercise their cachet as one half of a celebrity couple.
But where Beckham retains the vestiges of a bad-boy image, largely by his extravagant tattoos, Brady endures as a controversy-free zone. The merest whisper of tabloid gossip is repelled as violently as a bullet off a James Bond car.
I first encountered Brady after one training session at the New England Patriots, the franchise with which he has become synonymous throughout 12 glory-cluttered years. It was a bitter autumn morning in Foxboro, Massachusetts, but the team leader, preparing to travel to London for the now-traditional October fixture at Wembley, fielded questions from the visiting press posse with characteristic poise.
Some feat, when the subjects ranged from "Tom, are you looking forward to seeing Big Ben?" to "Tom, have you ever eaten fish and chips?"
This silky-smooth act has been in evidence again this week, in the preamble to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Brady, confronted by the ritual media cavalcade, was asked by one reporter if he had any message for his fans in Japan. "Hello, Tokyo!" he replied, with a smile that could launch a thousand toothpaste commercials. "Wish you were here!"
A boy from a local elementary school wanted to know how he could begin pursuing a career in sports.
"That's a great question," Brady said, careful as ever to make the inquisitor feel like the most significant person in the room.
So easy is it to marvel at the PR polish of Brady's performance that one almost forgets the prize that awaits him.
By unpicking the New York Giants' coverage on Sunday, thus sealing his fourth Super Bowl triumph in the Patriots' red-and-blue, the 34-year-old can join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana in that elite triumvirate of players who have won four rings as a starter.
For Brady, the opportunity to emulate Montana, who he mythologised as a child following the San Francisco 49ers, has a tinge of fantasy.
But his career statistics underline his status as a legitimate heir. He recorded 50 touchdown passes in a single season, won 76 of his 100 games, and has survived 339 pass attempts without an interception.
His signature movement -- standing tall in the pocket, identifying his wide receiver, and threading the oval ball through the eye of a needle -- is one of pure liquid elegance.
There would be a certain poetry, too, if Brady were to cement his legacy at the side of Bill Belichick, the Patriots' saturnine head coach. Brady and Belichick are the Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Simon and Garfunkel of the NFL.
Their personalities might be diametrically opposed, and yet their mutual understanding remains telepathic.
Where Brady positively revels in his star wattage, his mentor, while a consummate NFL coach, is assiduously poker-faced. The combination, as attested by their progress to a fifth Super Bowl together, is evidently seamless.
Just do not expect Belichick to emote about the accomplishment. Pressed earlier this season on whether star receiver Wes Welker could be bracketed with the legendary Jerry Rice, Belichick deadpanned: "Wes has been productive for us." Thanks, Bill.
He will be quite content to surrender the stage to Brady, should the Patriots neutralise Eli Manning's Giants offence at Lucas Oil Stadium. The confrontation is already spiked by talk of a revenge mission, given New York's 17-14 victory in 2008, spoiling hopes for an unblemished New England campaign of 18 straight wins. Should Brady prevail in the face of such history, it would constitute a type of perfection for a player whose career has come to define that very concept. (© Daily Telegraph, London)